Things were calming down for Gov. Mark Sanford early last week. There were only a smattering of opportunistic calls for his resignation. Argentinian tan lines and “hiking trips” were heading off the front page.
Then, in an apparent attempt to really come clean and put this whole mess behind him, Sanford gave another rambling, wounded-heart interview, professing his love for his mistress while promising to try to warm up to the old ball and chain. It read more like Twilight than Primary Colors. A script worthy of Zac Efron instead of Harrison Ford.
Making It Worse
Michael Jackson’s untimely death (and let’s not forget the OxyClean guy Billy Mays) had moved headlines out of the Palmetto State. Sanford’s scorned lover, Argentinian Maria Belen Chapur played against character and avoided the press. “Still the Governor” and “Sanford Should Stay in Office” were the headlines on the editorial pages of The Post and Courier and The State, respectively, on Tuesday. Hours later, the governor made a fool of them and any lingering Sanford supporters hanging out for the second act.
The Associated Press was given an exclusive interview that proved the awkward revelations from the first press conference almost a week earlier weren’t due to duress, but maybe narcissism.
Contradicting his remarks from the earlier press conference, Sanford said he’d “crossed the line” with a handful of other women before meeting Argentinian Maria Belen Chapur, whom he tearfully called his soulmate.
“This was a whole lot more than a simple affair,” he said. “It’s a love story … a forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.”
Reporters everywhere started hyperventilating and the public went slack-jawed, stunned at his candor.
“I don’t think only women were squirming,” says Jeri Cabot, a political science professor at the College of Charleston.
Meanwhile, South Carolina Republicans pulled out their pens. By Tuesday night, seven leading GOP state senators had signed off on a letter calling for Sanford’s resignation.
“He has lost the trust of the people and the legislature to lead our state through historically difficult times,” read the letter, which included the signature of Senate Majority Leader Harry Peeler.
By Wednesday, Republican support was falling left and right. Calls from the state Senate for the governor’s ouster swelled to more than half the GOP caucus. Lt. Gov. André Bauer, a candidate to replace Sanford in 2010, offered to exit the race if he was asked to fill the remainder of the governor’s term. Attorney General Henry McMaster, himself a gubernatorial hopeful, reversed an earlier pledge to stay out of this mess and called for a preliminary inquiry into Sanford’s travel records.
U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint and state Senate leader Glenn McConnell, two of the most powerful Republicans in the state, both publicly and privately pleaded with Sanford to “do the right thing.” One can assume they were asking Sanford to resign, but maybe they were just asking him to shut up.
On Thursday, SLED Director Reggie Lloyd, who was appointed by Sanford, said there was no evidence the governor had used taxpayer money to pay for his liaisons, except for a stopover on the way back from a South American trade mission. Sanford has promised to repay the state more than $8,000 for that leg of the trip.
The clamoring for the governor’s ouster and the embarrassment he’s brought to the state won’t go away anytime soon. A Statehouse rally to call for his resignation is planned for Thurs., July 9.
But Sanford seems resolute in serving out his term. And there’s a wide chasm between asking him to walk out of the office and pushing him out of the door (just ask former President Bill Clinton).
“It’s going to take some serious strategizing,” Cabot says.
It’s hard to say what that’s going to mean for Sanford and South Carolina.
“It really depends. He can demonstrate that he’s doing all he can do to repair his relationship with his family and his voters,” Cabot says. “But he’ll be doing it on our time, and we’re paying him to do it.”
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
In a written apology to voters last week, Gov. Mark Sanford gave reasons for remaining in office, but he offered a different tune when responding to other politicians’ sex scandals, even after he was privately “crossing the line” with other women.
In February 1998, then U.S. Congressman Sanford was asked about the potential benefit of having lame duck President Bill Clinton, shamed by the Lewinsky scandal, remain in office for another two years.
“I don’t know how that could be good for anybody,” he told The Post and Courier. “I don’t think it’s good to have anyone who’s wounded in that high an office.”
That December, the impeachment process was gaining traction, but it was evident to Sanford that Clinton would remain in office at the end of the day. He didn’t care, pressing on for censure.
“You would set in place an awfully cancerous growth if you let people out there think, ‘I know the president lies so I can too,'” Sanford told the Associated Press.
At the same time, House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston was embroiled in his own scandal, admitting to an affair. Sanford didn’t hold back.
“The issue of lying is probably the biggest harm, if you will, to the system of Democratic government, representative government, because it undermines trust,” he said. “And if you undermine trust in our system, you undermine everything.”
In July 2001, the same year he met his mistress, Sanford was in the throes of his first gubernatorial campaign when another D.C. sex scandal hit. As law enforcement desperately searched for Chandra Levy, Congressman Gary Condit, a California Democrat, admitted to a previous affair with the former intern. Sanford spoke to The Post and Courier at the time about how power disconnects some politicians from their constituents and they start cheating.
“What these guys start thinking is they’re above the law. You saw it with the president,” Sanford said.
“Guys make remarkably stupid mistakes because they’ve lost that sense of self. They get long-winded because they can no longer read the audience. They lose (a sense of) when to turn the mic over.” —Greg Hambrick